Alexandros Argyriou

If there are people who are innately kind, then Alexandros Argyriou, who died last week at the age of 88, must be counted among the best of them. His generosity was also spontaneous. He gave of himself in every possible way, in his manners, his patience, not because he was a teacher, but because he rejected the idea that knowledge is personal property, believing instead that it provides an opportunity to give. He was always interesting to those younger than himself and made something interesting out of subjects often avoided by his seniors. To write his eight-volume «History of Modern Greek Literature (1918-1974),» he displayed a rare persistence not seen since the 19th century. Argyriou read widely and commented on George Seferis and Manolis Anagnostakis, Yiannis Ritsos and Tassos Leivaditis, Kostas Karyotakis, Odysseas Elytis and the surrealists. During the dictatorship he was a member of the editorial committee of the «Eighteen Texts,» the «New Texts» and the magazine Continuity, that raised their voices against the tyrannical madness of the colonels. Some called him an amateur, as he had not graduated in philology but from the civil engineering faculty at the National Technical University, completing studies on reinforced concrete while compiling a body of work that «professional» philologists would envy. Perhaps he recognized aspects of himself in the writings of Kostis Palamas, prompting him to write in 1972: «All I know I have learnt freely, without a system, on my own. I am, as they say, self-taught. Therefore I have both the gifts and the sins of the self-taught.» Argyriou’s death didn’t make the headlines, just like many of the poets whom he loved and served. If he could hear the words of praise now being said about him, even by those who know virtually nothing about him, he would certainly smile; not with irony but, as always, with kindness.

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